German Gov't, Opposition Agree On New President

Published February 19, 2012 8:27PM (EST)

BERLIN (AP) — Germany's government and the two major opposition parties say they have agreed to jointly nominate Joachim Gauck as the country's presidential candidate.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday her center-right coalition government, and the center-left opposition have rallied behind the former East German human rights activist.

Gauck was initially proposed by the opposition Social Democrats and Greens but the 72-year-old also found the coalition government's backing Sunday.

President Christian Wulff of Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union quit Friday after two months of allegations he received favors from friends when he was governor of Lower Saxony state.

The new president will be elected by a special assembly next month. Germany's president holds a largely ceremonial role.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

BERLIN (AP) — Germany's coalition government and the main opposition will hold a first round of talks Sunday to find a presidential candidate who can garner widespread support among the country's different parties.

Christian Wulff, 52, quit as president Friday after two months of allegations he received favors such as a favorable loan and hotel stays from friends when he was governor of Lower Saxony state. He was Chancellor Angela Merkel's candidate when elected less than two years ago.

The talks come amid signs of splits in the governing center-right coalition, which holds at best a wafer-thin majority in the special parliamentary assembly that must elect a new president within 30 days. The meeting between party and caucus leaders from the governing coalition and the opposition was scheduled to start late Sunday at Berlin's chancellery, German news agency dapd reported.

The presidential vote is often more guided by personal sympathy than party lines, rendering it difficult to predict its outcome amid a thin majority. Germany's head of state holds a largely ceremonial role. The incumbent typically uses his moral authority, standing above party politics, to influence debates in society and politics.

The opposition Social Democrats and Greens signaled Saturday they are willing to support a candidate outside party lines, as long as active Cabinet members and polarizing politicians won't be considered.

The biggest opposition party, the Social Democrats, stressed that their favorite candidate remains former East German human rights activist Joachim Gauck, 72, who had lost to Wulff in a messy 2010 election.

In a surprise move, the board of the Liberals, Merkel's junior coalition partner, endorsed the well-regarded opposition candidate Gauck on Sunday, according to dapd. He also has some support in Merkel's Christian Democratic Union.

For Merkel, however, backing the opposition candidate would amount to admitting that pushing through Wulff against Gauck two years ago was a mistake.

It wasn't immediately obvious what other candidate might draw cross-party support. Speculation has centered on figures such as the conservative former ex-minister and U.N. Environment Program leader Klaus Toepfer or the former head of Germany's Lutheran Church, Bishop Wolfgang Huber.

Merkel's coalition nominally wields a majority of two seats in the special assembly that will elect the new president. The assembly has more than 1,200 seats in total, made up of lower-house lawmakers and representatives of Germany's 16 states.

Despite holding more seats two years ago, Merkel's coalition still needed three rounds of voting to get Wulff elected amid defections in favor of Gauck.

The speaker of parliament's upper house, conservative Bavarian governor Horst Seehofer, has taken over the presidential duties on an interim basis, mostly signing legislation into law.


Juergen Baetz can be reached on Twitter at

By Salon Staff

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